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eBay: Botnets are Linux-happy

Security chief goes to the bank

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eBay may soon offer online banking. It would seem.

This afternoon, while fielding questions about PayPal at Santa Clara University conference obsessed with "trust online," chief information security officer Dave Cullinane seemed to indicate eBay is interested in extending the popular online payment system to its logical conclusion.

"What we're trying to do is provide a trusted payment system that's within the community that constitutes eBay Inc., trying to be all things, but we aren't the bank yet," he said, before adding "Did I say yet?"

Cue audience laughter. But you have to wonder. Before joining eBay, Cullinane was the CISO at Washington Mutual, one of the largest banks in the US.

Or maybe we're just having fun.

During his hour-long keynote, Cullinane stuck mostly to generalizations when discussing eBay's security practices, but he had a few interesting things to say about his time with Washington Mutual.

At one point, he said, the bank spent a month as the largest phishing target in the country, and in fighting this ongoing problem, it has shutdown countless phishing sites surreptitiously installed on countless machines across the net.

"These things are incredibly sophisticated, and when they take over a computer, most [users] don't know it," he said. "With every single phishing site [Washington Mutual has] shutdown, not one person was aware been aware that their machine was compromised and used for phishing. That includes university servers and company servers and personal PCs and all sorts of things."

More interesting is that most of the compromised machines were not Windows machines. "The vast majority of [the phishing sites] we saw were on rootkit-ed Linux boxes, which was rather startling. We expected a predominance of Microsoft boxes and that wasn't the case."

This pleased Microsoft's head of Silicon Valley PR, who served as a conference sponsor.

Botnets are obviously a big problem for eBay as well, but Cullinane wouldn't quite say how big. "We see botnet attacks that are massive in their size and scope. We did a preliminary analysis and found over - I guess I'm not supposed to say that, what the number is - but we found a huge number of bots aimed specifically at eBay, trying to do things specifically to us."

The problem has become so bad that eBay operates under the assumption that every personal PC is infected, he says. "With the desktop, we're starting to run on the assumption that anyone who's trying to contact us from their own personal desktop is probably coming from a compromised computer." ®

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